"I was one of the lucky ones. I went to university, escaped the poverty cycle."
"I was one of the lucky ones. I went to university, escaped the poverty cycle." Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The mental image of Joe Hockey in Marie Antoinette’s blonde
ringlets proclaiming “Let them eat cake” might prompt consternation or
an upset stomach, depending on your political persuasion. But with his
“beer and cigarettes” comments, he has in effect uttered the modern-day

It is thought the Queen of France never actually said those
words. Joe Hockey, on the other hand, undeniably compared the $7
co-payment for a GP visit to the cost of a pack of cigarettes and two
$3 middies of beer. In the same breath (almost) as he inhaled a cigar,
he also perpetuated the stereotype that welfare recipients were
layabouts who would choose booze and ciggies over feeding their children
or taking them to the doctor. They simply sprawl in front of their
flat-screen TVs, never look for work and watch the fat welfare cheques
roll in. Isn’t that right, Joe?

Mr Hockey, sitting in his castle twirling his ringlets, is
displaying an appalling lack of understanding of the way real welfare
recipients live. How would I know? I was one.

I grew up in public housing, my mum battling to look after me
on the single parent pension. Far from the stereotype, she didn’t have
six kids by several different fathers (I was an only child) and was
certainly not a teenage mum (she was 35 when I was born). She neither
smoked nor drank. 

We also had all our own teeth, knew the difference between
''there'', ''their'' and ''they’re'', and had exactly zero friends named
Damo or Shazza. I could go on, but you catch my drift.

Despite my mother’s self-denial and strict budgeting, the $7
fee for GP visits would have bitten hard in our household. I was a
sickly child, suffering from frequent bouts of bronchitis and ear
infections that led to excruciating burst abscesses and a hospital visit
each time.

Mum agonised over every dollar that went out the door and how
best to care for me during each illness as it was, without the added
burden of $7 fees everywhere she turned. Giving up beer and cigarettes
wasn’t an option, so I’m not sure where she would have found the money.
Luckily, the petrol tax hikes wouldn’t have factored into the equation.
We didn’t own a car.

Sure, this is simply anecdotal evidence from just one family,
but I also saw how my neighbours, also on benefits, lived. Mostly, they
were honest people who were experiencing hard times and were doing
their best to survive and thrive under challenging circumstances.

I was one of the lucky ones. I went to university, escaped
the poverty cycle and now at 34 have a good job and a happy marriage. I
genuinely wonder whether I could have achieved that had Mr Hockey’s
budget been handed down when I was growing up.

We’ll never know, but I do know that my experience of being
on welfare was vastly different from the “beer and cigarettes”
stereotype the Coalition is pushing.

As for Marie Antoinette aka Mr Hockey? He can shut his cake hole.

Rebecca Douglas is an Adelaide-based writer.